Nfld. & Labrador

Key services exempt from planned cuts, Dunderdale says

Premier Kathy Dunderdale says her plan to cut government spending won't be as drastic as it initially sounded.

Premier downgrades restraint pledge; says province seeking less than $100 million in savings

Premier Kathy Dunderdale answers questions in the house of assembly on Tuesday. (CBC)

Premier Kathy Dunderdale says her plan to cut government spending won't be as drastic as it initially sounded.

On Monday, Dunderdale told CBC News she ordered departments to cut three per cent from their operations.

"We're looking at a three-per-cent reduction right across government," she said.

But a day later, the premier said certain programs will be exempt from the review.

"Yes, there are exemptions," Dunderdale said during question period in the house of assembly Tuesday. "Front-line health and education services will be exempted. Policing services will be exempted. Child, youth and family services will be exempted ... Income support will be exempted."

By taking those areas off the table, Dunderdale said she can avoid layoffs to the public service or deep program cuts.

A three-per-cent cut in overall government spending equates to roughly $220 million.

Instead, Dunderdale said the planned review is aimed at netting under $100 million in savings — less than half that amount.

She said much of that can be achieved by cutting back on things like travel and discretionary spending.

"When you’re mindful of small amounts of money, the bigger amounts will take care of themselves," the premier told reporters Tuesday. "So maybe we should be going to six conferences a year instead of 10. Maybe we should be sending two people instead of four."

A reduction in infrastructure spending is still likely, as is some downsizing in the civil service through attrition.

Demanding answers

Opposition politicians were critical of Dunderdale’s original three-per-cent comments, demanding answers in the legislature Tuesday.

"This government is now following the lead of Stephen Harper and telling the people of the province there will be cuts across the board," Liberal Leader Dwight Ball said.

NDP Leader Lorraine Michael tied the planned cuts to the province’s plans to spend billions on Muskrat Falls.

"On the one hand, the premier talks about across-the-board cuts to the tune of three per cent, yet at the next moment she is willing to commit this province to the most expensive project we have ever seen in our history," Michael said.